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Royal Oak — NASCAR star Kurt Busch brought his 2018 Ford GT supercar to Detroit last week. He can't stay for the Cruise, but the car can.

"I'm sorry I can't do the Cruise this year," the 2004 NASCAR champion said Saturday on his way to Michigan International Speedway for the Consumers Energy 400, where he would finish sixth, and stay in the thick of the NASCAR title-race in fourth place. 

"We used to do the MIS race the same weekend as the Dream Cruise," he said, "but this year I will be on my way to Bristol."

A pity, but his stunning Ford GT — wrapped in the same No. 41 Monster Energy livery featured on his Ford Fusion NASCAR — is a nice consolation prize. Busch pilots Stewart-Haas Racing's Ford Fusion in the series. Ford will have the GT on display at Duggan's Irish Pub at 31501 Woodward (north of 13 Mile) in Royal Oak all day Friday and Saturday.

The car followed him to MIS for the weekend from his home in Charlotte, North Carolina  — but not before it made a pit stop in Oakland County where the 2017 Daytona 500 winner was kind enough to let me take it for a spin with two neighborhood kids in the passenger seat. It's an experience they won't forget.

Busch is a lifelong Ford fan. He and his father own five 1932 Fords, from a Roadster to a chop top. And he is infatuated with the mid-engine, carbon-fiber, 647-horsepower GT.

But he had to make his case to Ford to buy it just like thousands of others with the means to own this rare thoroughbred. Ford is making just 1,000 production GTs — 250 a year through 2020 — in the wake of winning LeMans in 2016. The company put in place a rigorous process to guarantee it had the right group of owner who would serve as ambassadors.

"It was like an audition," said Busch. "You have to advertise yourself and explain why you're deserving. So I called them after I won the Daytona 500,"

He met with Henry Ford III, Ford Performance global marketing manager and the "gatekeeper" for the GT application process. Busch already owned a previous-generation 2005 GT, which gave him a leg up in the process (plus that, um, Daytona 500 win for Ford). But he admitted that he had treated that car like a trophy, putting only 97 miles on the odometer since Ford gifted him the car for winning the 2004 NASCAR title.

"I promised to drive the new one and show it off everywhere," said Busch, who was in town to help unveil Ford's NASCAR Mustang for next season. "That's what sealed the deal."

He took delivery in March (the 41st car delivered in the second batch of 250), his wife surprising him with the car after a bad day at the office.

True to his word, he has already put 5,000 miles on the car — a good chunk of them coming in the annual Gold Rush Rally, a cross-country exotic-car tour from June 22-July 1. Busch joined 90 other enthusiasts for the trip from Boston to his hometown of Las Vegas.

He made a stop in Detroit on the way — at the M1 Concourse car club in Pontiac, right off Woodward. Then he got a chance to track the car at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway's infield road course.

Before I drove Busch's car here, I had previously tested one on the Utah Motorsport race track. Sharing state-of-art aerodynamics with the LeMans race car and a high-revving, twin-turbo V-6, it's as close to a race car as a production vehicle gets.

Busch was impressed. Freed from the public roads, Busch got a chance to really open it up. 

"I got to drive it around a little bit at Indianapolis," he deadpanned. "It has just enough room to really have some fun."

Before making the Gold Rush trip, Busch wrapped his GT — originally Liquid Gray with orange stripes (matching the orange console inside) — in No. 41 team colors. 

"My wife and I configured (the exterior wrap) online independently of one another," remembers Busch. "Turns out we configured it the same way" — in matte black with Monster Energy-green trim.

Busch turned 40 this year ("My wife celebrated with a Great Gatsby theme") and, with his growing car collection, fits the Dream-Cruiser profile more with each day.

"I hope I can come out to the Dream Cruise with my dad some day," he said. 

His Ford GT will be ready to go.

Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at hpayne@detroitnews.com or Twitter @HenryEPayne. Catch “Car Radio with Henry Payne” from noon-2 p.m. Saturdays on 910 AM Superstation.

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